Never too old - bodywork for the elderly
This is a subject which is a particular hobby-horse of mine. In my view too few older people turn to massage and other manual therapies to deal with pain, stiffness and loss of function associated with advancing years. Too few, because these simple, non-invasive therapies can do so much to maintain and improve good health in old age.
Consider much of the pain and restriction we feel as we get older is associated with gradual wear and tear and a general slowing down in the rate of repair of tissues. Circulation of blood and lymph is diminished leading to the accumulation of waste products and nutrient deficiencies. Partly as a result of all this, we tire more easily and feel less able to exercise as much as we should. Fatigue and chronic pain also contribute to stress.
Now think about what bodywork does. Massage and other manual therapies improve natural joint lubrication and help relieve tension in the muscles around the joints, reducing pain and allowing easier movement. They also enhance the flow of blood and lymph. As circulation to the brain improves, a temporary increase in physical energy and mental alertness can result. Feeling this way may inspire increased activity, which will further improve strength, flexibility and coordination.
By promoting deep relaxation and reducing muscle tension, bodywork eases stress. This can lead to a reduction in symptoms associated with stress related disorders like insomnia, high blood pressure and breathing difficulties.
Even, or perhaps especially, the very frail or ill can benefit. For these clients bodywork is not meant to specifically treat a condition or disease, but rather to address the whole person with soothing, nurturing touch. Therapists who do this work employ gentle and flexible techniques, designed to meet their client's varying needs. These techniques can be used to help to reduce swelling from fluid retention, heal pressure sores, and promote relaxation, which, in turn, can decrease sensations of pain. Just as important, practitioners working with the frail elderly tend to offer a personal connection and a listening ear, which can help relieve feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
If you have a friend or family member who’s getting on in years and experiencing pain and stiffness or are in this category yourself, do consider bodywork – it really does have a lot to offer.
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Suse Moebius BSc (hons) RSHomApril 12th, 2018